What’s it like to be a big-money flop? Five players who've been there tell FourFourTwo...
Ade Akinbiyi (Wolves to Leicester, 2000)
Fee: £5m (in today’s money: £12m)
“At the time, the price tag didn’t bother me. I’d established myself at Wolves and was doing well, but it wasn’t me who named the price, it was the club, and Leicester wanted to pay that much for my services. £5m was a massive fee for Leicester at the time, and naturally they expected me to score a lot of goals to justify that.
“I really can’t pinpoint why it didn’t work out. I think it was the right time for Leicester to come and buy me, although maybe I could’ve done with another year at Wolves. But, of course, I wanted to play in the Premier League.
“I came in as Emile Heskey’s replacement, but he is a different breed of footballer. He’s big, strong and scores goals, but back then, if Heskey wasn’t scoring a lot he could get away with it. He was the local hero. I was a different player – I’d be running in behind and trying to cause people problems. But Leicester looked at my record in the Championship and thought I’d come and do the same thing.
“The fans were supportive at the start. They want you to do well and they’ll give you 10 games, but the longer it goes on, people start scratching their heads and ask if it was a waste of money. That’s normal. I was ready for the criticism. I didn’t do well, and fans pay their money so they’ve got the right to criticise, as we’re getting paid to play football.
“Everyone was trying to support me, including other players and the manager – the last thing they want is a player in their side who’s not playing well. I was doing extra training, and I was working so hard that I think the manager thought: ‘He’s training well; why isn’t he doing it during a game?’ I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“I was 100 per cent fit and could run all day; I just wasn’t scoring – like the game against Liverpool, where I was off target most of the time. I think it’s confidence – part and parcel of sport or any type of work. Sometimes you can’t focus or hit the target your boss wants you to.
“I remember ending my goal drought against Sunderland. It wasn’t a great goal – it was really scrappy, to be fair – but just to see it go over the line was a weight off my shoulders. I did a mad celebration as I was just so happy, and I thought I could carry on from there.
“If I could turn back time I’d have thought more about it – whether it was the right time to move – but I have no regrets. It did change me, though. Once I left Leicester I had to work even harder for managers to believe in me.
“I scored nine league goals in the 2000/01 season. These days, if you score nine goals in the Premier League that’s seen as not too bad. But back in the day, people expected a lot of goals from players like me. It didn’t happen. It was more or less a waste of money, if you want to call it that.”
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